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Gulf oil spill: Doomed rig had good reputation, BP executive testifies

August 26, 2010 |  9:43 pm

The Deepwater Horizon, which exploded April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico, was considered one of the most efficient and safest mobile floating rigs in the Transocean Ltd. fleet, according to testimony Thursday at a hearing.

The rig's reputation as essentially the jewel of the fleet was one of the reasons BP's drilling and completions vice president, Pat O’Bryan, wanted to tour the vessel off the Louisiana coast. He arrived on the rig, leased to BP by Transocean,less than 10 hours before it exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

“One of the purposes of the trip was to actually understand why the Horizon was as good a performer as a rig as it was,” O’Bryan testified at a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department hearing in Houston, which went on for 12 1/2 hours Thursday.

Transocean plotted its rigs on a graph measuring safety versus rig equipment downtime.
“They have a box called the ‘excellence box,’ and the Horizon was one of the handful of the rigs that they had in their fleet that actually is in the excellence box,” O’Bryan said. “So we got into a big conversation about ... why do you think the rig performs as well as it does?”

In fact, as earlier testimony shows, the Deepwater Horizon had a history of major maintenance problems, suffering from partial blackouts, freezing computers and a backlog of thousands of hours of overdue maintenance. A BP audit in September 2009 showed that there was “overdue planned maintenance considered excessive -- 390 jobs amounting to 3,545 man-hours.”

O’Bryan testified that he was not familiar with the audit prior to the disaster. He was relatively new on the job, he said, having been placed in his position three to four months before the rig exploded.

Testimony has shown that the overdue maintenance backlog was caused in part by a lack of manpower. The rig’s chief engineer, Stephen Bertone, testified in July that the Deepwater Horizon had been expected to return to a shipyard in 2011 for a massive overhaul.

Investigators have suggested faulty equipment on board the rig may have been a factor in the disaster.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II in Houston